The RYA said sailors can cruise Belgium "without fear of being fined" following confirmation that checks on British yachts remain suspended until further notice

It has been confirmed that British sailors will not be fined for the use of red diesel in Belgium.

The announcement from the RYA comes following a number of incidents in Nieuwpoort over the summer.

The organisation said it had received the confirmation from the Belgian Ministry of Finance following a meeting of the EU’s Indirect Tax Expert Group, which met earlier this month on the issue.

“It remains to be seen what action, if any, the formal report of the meeting of the Indirect Tax Expert Group will reveal, but for the time being at least it appears that boats with red diesel in their tanks can continue to visit Belgium without fear of being fined,” said an RYA spokesman.

The RYA said it has been assured that it will be notified if the situation in Belgium changes.


Fines for UK boats

Maurice and Jill Phillips were one of four boat owners fined €500 by the Belgium authorities for having red diesel in their fuel tank.

The couple told Yachting Monthly that they “strongly suspect” their Hunter Channel 31, Blue Diamond, was selected by Customs because they were flying the Red Ensign.

The couple was returning from a cruising holiday along the Dutch waterways with the Westerly Owners Association when the incident happened in June.

The Phillips said the officials didn’t give any reason for inspecting the fuel on board Blue Diamond, and although the couple had fuel receipts, these were not asked for, although the rest of their paperwork was thoroughly examined.

They said they were not aware of anyone else being inspected, and they were told the fine had to be paid on the spot.

“No opportunity was offered to appeal,” explained the Phillips, adding, “We were in shock anyway”.

They said the officers who inspected their fuel tank advised that UK boats should clean their tanks so that no trace of red dye is present, and stated they had English boats come in with clean tanks.

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“We said we didn’t know how this could be achieved as we believed only red diesel was available in British marinas. They didn’t believe this,” explained the Phillips.

“We had been away from the UK for 6 weeks and during this time had been topping up with “clean” diesel. We have a small fuel tank which only holds 60 litres. Their sample tube would not go down our filler and I was asked to take a sample from the fuel
filter. I then had to bleed the engine of course,” added Mr Phillips.

Following the incident, the Phillips say they will never visit the country again and are urging other sailors to also give it a miss.

“We will never ever go to Belgium again and are advising all we know in the boating world that they should do likewise. Our cruising
companions are still in the Dutch waterways, but are plotting courses to avoid Belgium on their return journey,” explained the Phillips, who usually moor Blue Diamond at Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne.

Long campaign

Both the RYA and the Cruising Association (CA) have continuously campaigned on the issue of red diesel.

At the end of July, CA advised sailors to avoid Belgium following reports of UK boats being tested for red diesel in tanks and the owners fined €500 if any traces were found, even if receipts were provided.

In all cases, a Schengen crew list was also provided to officials.

The CA’s Regulations and Technical Services group has worked extensively with Belgian authorities over the issue of red diesel.

It recommends that anyone planning to visit Belgian ports should carry receipts for all diesel purchased in the past two years, which should have tax paid on 100% of fuel.

They should also carry a Schengen crew list, and if possible a print-out of the full text of the email from the Belgian Ambassador on the CA’s website.

The RYA is urging anyone who is fined in Belgium for having red diesel in their tanks to email them at giving as much detail as possible.

Although it is still legal to purchase red diesel for use in pleasure craft in the UK, it is unlawful in Belgium to use red diesel for propelling a private pleasure craft.

As a result, the number of British yachts visiting the country has fallen.

Back in 2010 and 2011, the Belgian authorities clamped down on the use of ‘red’ diesel, with many sailors receiving significant fines.